Sunday, January 6, 2008


So I’ve just gotten to see the Coen Brothers’ latest, and I can see what the critics are raving about.
Now, I’ve mentioned ‘round these parts before that I’ve loved the Coens ever since they kicked my a$$ with their debut, Blood Simple. Admittedly, that could be construed by some as an indication that I’d be unfairly predisposed towards anything they’d put out. Let me assure you though, I’ve missed some of their oeuvre (The Hudsucker Proxy and Intolerable Cruelty) and wasn’t terribly fond of The Big Lebowski, so this one might have gone either way.
Their adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel though, proves to be a riveting piece of cinema that is certainly one of 2007’s best.

Josh Brolin is Llewelyn Moss, a Vietnam veteran who comes across a bunch of dead bodies, a whole lotta drugs, and a whole lotta cash. Soon, he’s got a stone cold killer named Anton Chigurh (a truly frightening Javier Bardem) on his heels, with Tommy Lee Jones’ Sheriff Ed Tom Bell trying to lend a hand, while reeling at how increasingly strange and bizarre life has become in the year 1980.
Asking the same basic question Scott Smith‘s A Simple Plan posed—what happens when an otherwise good man finds a crapload of dirty money and makes off with it?—the Coens’ adaptation of McCarthy’s novel is, on one level, the tale of the disastrous results one bad choice can engender.
On another level though, it’s about the inevitability of the future, no matter how unsettling and alien it may be, and how one responds to the juggernaut of time: one can either accept it with as much grace as can be mustered to temper the resignation, or one can struggle against it and face the consequences of that decision.
The message isn’t a comforting one, but then again, truth sometimes isn’t.

No Country For Old Men also displays two qualities film aficionados have come to admire in the Coen Brothers’ work: a great script and some great performances.
Jones is fantastic as the laconic and vaguely bewildered lawman faced with the inexplicable violence of this case, but then again, this is Tommy Lee Jones, so that’s hardly a surprise. And as much as Brolin’s performance was an eye-opener, the man who steals the show here is most definitely Bardem.
Whatever else may happen this awards season, Bardem is going down in my books as one of the Scariest Psycho Baddies of 2007: Chigurh’s like the T-1000, but with a really dodgy haircut. Bad news, kiddies.

At the moment, these are some of the nominations No Country For Old Men is up for: at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, it’s up for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture, as well as two nods for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role (for Jones and Bardem).
At the Golden Globes, it’s up for Best Motion Picture Drama, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture (Bardem), and Best Screenplay.
And it’s on 13 of this year’s BAFTA longlists, which will be slimmed down during a second round of voting which closes on January 14; see Afterthoughts (39).
No Country For Old Men also took top prizes at any number of critics’ awards late last year including the Toronto Film Critics Association, D.C. Area Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Circle, the National Board of Review, Southeastern Film Critics Association, and the Las Vegas Film Critics Association, with a healthy portion of the Supporting Actor nods going to Bardem.
So, you know, don’t just take my word for it.

It will be recalled that Sam Raimi adapted Smith‘s A Simple Plan for the big screen, and that film is still Raimi’s best. It will also be recalled that Joel Coen worked with Raimi on The Evil Dead, so the fact that they eventually both directed films adapted from novels that ask the same basic question is interesting to note.
Now, as to whether No Country For Old Men is the best Coen Brothers film (as some critics have gone on the record as saying) is still up in the air for me. I honestly need to give that one a think. Blood Simple still holds a special place in my film geek’s heart (and I’m certain it always will), as does Barton Fink and The Man Who Wasn’t There.
So, the Coens’ best? I can’t say at the moment.
I do know this though: it’s a film that manages to find, amidst the blood and violence of an impending and uncertain future, instances of strange, mesmerizing beauty: in the bleak vistas of West Texas; in the stark, brittle sound of boots on the pavement; in the recollection of an old and tired man’s dream.

One of 2007’s best?
As I mentioned way up there in the first paragraph, most definitely.

Parting shot: Also notable in the film’s cast are Trainspotting’s Kelly MacDonald, who brings a sense of unassuming spunk and quiet defiance to her role of Carla Jean, Llewelyn’s wife, and all-too-briefly, Beth Grant (who I first took notice of in Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko) as Carla Jean’s mother, Agnes.

(No Country For Old Men OS courtesy of; novel cover art courtesy of

No comments: